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Sir Ludwig Guttmann Bio : Birth, Work Journey, Paralympic movement, Achievements, Honours and Education

There are very few who actually stands out as a path showing light who never shied from giving their best in every endeavour. Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann was one of them. He was born on 3 July 1899 in Tost, Upper Silesia, Germany, and raised in the Jewish faith. He started studying medicine at the University of Breslau in 1918 after he was turned down for military service on medical grounds. He continued his studies in Würzberg and Freiburg and took his MD degree in 1924, writing his thesis on tumours of the trachea.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann Work Journey

Having returned to Breslau, he worked with Europe’s leading neurologist Professor Otfrid Foerster from 1924 to 1928. In 1928, Guttmann was invited to start a neurosurgical unit in Hamburg but this post only lasted a year as Foerster asked him to return to Breslau as his first assistant – a job Guttmann felt he could not refuse. He remained in this job until 1933 when the Nazis forced all Jews to leave Aryan hospitals. Under such oppression, Guttmann became neurologist to the Jewish Hospital in Breslau and was elected Medical Director of the whole hospital in 1937.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann New Beginning in Britain

On 9 November 1938 (Kristallnacht), Guttmann gave orders that any male person entering the hospital was to be treated, despite the racial laws. The following morning, he had to justify his orders. Like all Jews, Guttmann’s passport had been confiscated and he was not allowed to travel; however, in December 1938 he was ordered by von Ribbentrop to travel to Lisbon, Portugal to treat a friend of the dictator, Salazar. On his return he was granted permission to go to England for two days. He was already in contact with the British Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and was offered a grant. He decided to emigrate with his wife , Else Samuel Guttmann, and their two children: a son, Dennis, and a daughter, Eva.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann Paralympic movement

He is known as the “founder of the Paralympic movement’. He was a neurosurgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital who revolutionised the treatment and life chances for those with spinal injuries and he organised the first ‘Stoke Mandeville Games’ to coincide with the start of the London Olympics in 1948. The International Stoke Mandeville Games were the forerunners of today’s Paralympic Games. He established the Paralympic Games in England and is considered to be one of the founding fathers of organised physical activities for disabled people.

Guttmann believed sports were a major method of treatment for paraplegics. He introduced concepts such as physical therapy and ulcer prophylaxis at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which are still in use today. He was convinced that these measures would allow patients to build up physical strength and self-respect. In England, Sir Guttmann continued with his research into paraplegia putting some innovative approaches into practice. In 1948, he organised a 16-person archery contest for disabled war veterans that was one of the first official competitive sporting events for wheelchair users. They competed in wheelchairs at a rehabilitation hospital northwest of London. The event was held three years after the end of the Second World War.

When the meet was held again in 1952, competitors from the Netherlands took part – and an international movement was born.Called the Stoke Mandeville Games. He organised the games on the same day as the opening of the London Olympics. All participants had spinal cord injuries. To encourage his patients to take part in national events, Sir Guttmann used the term Paraplegic Games. These came to be known as the “Paralympic Games”, which later became the “Parallel Games” and grew to include other disabilities.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann Achievements

Guttmann was not only the “father of the Paralympic movement” but also a very important figure in the development of treatment for spinal injuries. He became President of the International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation and also founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled in 1961. In that year he also became inaugural President of the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (now known as the International Spinal Cord Society) as well as being the first Editor of the Society’s journal, Paraplegia. He travelled extensively for the Society’s meetings, which largely took place alongside the Games.

Guttmann’s initiative and advancement of the sporting spirit gained him international recognition. He was awarded the Sir Thomas Fearnley Cup in 1956 by the International Olympic Committee for his achievement in the paraplegic games. In 1960, he achieved his vision of an international tournament equivalent to the Olympic Games when the International Stoke Mandeville Games were held alongside the official 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. This was the birth of the Paralympic Games.

After establishing the Paralympic Games, Guttmann founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled (English Federation of Disability Sport) in 1961. He served as president of this institution from 1968 to 1979. At the same time, he also founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (later International Spinal Cord Society), serving as its president for nine years. In addition, he became the first editor of the journal Paraplegia, now Spinal Cord.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann Honours

Because of his extraordinary work, Guttmann received many honours. In 1950, he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). One year later, he was made an associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John. Later, he was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966.

Long lived Vision of Sir Ludwig Guttmann

Following his retirement from the Spinal Injuries Centre in 1966, Guttmann continued to be heavily involved with the Games and also the national and international organisations, both sports and medical. He continued to travel and lecture on spinal injuries all over the world, continuing to educate and influence others with his theories and methods. Sir Ludwig Guttmann died on the 18th March 1980 of heart failure following a heart attack some months before. He did not live to see his vision realised, but his work continues through the current disabled sports organisations and through the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville, which continues to be a world leader in the treatment of spinal injuries.

Through his research and social commitment, Guttmann has given vision and possibilities in the treatment of spinal injury. His work has helped countless patients by promoting their physical wellbeing & social inclusion and will go on. His passion and dedication have given a new face to the fields of neurosurgery and neurorehabilitation.

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